Thursday July 29th, 2010

In the lead up to this weekend's trade deadline, San Diego Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, he of the famously affordable contract through 2011, was supposed to the hottest commodity in baseball, the object of general managers' lust and a slam-dunk choice to be Google's most-searched for topic. Instead, Gonzalez has gone from trade bait to National League MVP in three easy steps:

1. Receive no additional help. Given the trouble rookie Kyle Blanks had in adjusting to major-league pitching, the Padres effectively added nothing of value to its already bleak offense. No teammate of Gonzalez's with at least 200 plate appearances has hit 10 home runs or has an on-base percentage higher than .332.

2. Continue your high level of production. Gonzalez is on pace for his fourth straight year of at least 30 home runs and at least 99 RBIs but has raised his average to .294, 17 points better than last year's final tally, while doing so. His OBP is .392, sixth-best in the NL.

3. Benefit from the club's improved pitching and defense. The Padres' pitching staff has the majors' best ERA (3.24) and the NL's best defensive efficiency (a measure of turning balls in play into outs).

The Padres have scored the fewest runs in their division and 11th-most in the NL while maintaining the league's best record at 59-40. So much of their "just enough" offense has been generated by Gonzalez with such limited help from his lineup mates that he should be considered the frontrunner for the league's MVP award. And rather than trading their franchise player and beginning to scout next year's best amateur prospects, the Padres can instead start preparing for a playoff push.

MLB Power Rankings
1New York Yankees
Last Week: 1
While the attention is on Alex Rodriguez's prolonged quest for 600 home runs, the Yankees bullpen continues to be a chink in New York's otherwise impressive résumé. Mariano Rivera's primary setup man, Joba Chamberlain, has a 5.95 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP. Manager Joe Girardi has intoned that David Robertson, who has been unscored upon in his last eight appearances, might be used more often in that role. Otherwise, the Yankees may need to make a move in the waning days before the trade deadline, and it probably won't be for Toronto reliever Scott Downs because, according to a report by's Jon Heyman, the Blue Jays are asking for New York's top prospect, catcher Jesus Montero.

The Yankees will try to protect their top ranking with a key road series against the No. 2 Rays over the weekend before returning home for the Jays.
2Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 2
Matt Garza has shown the flashes of dominant stuff for years, so his no-hitter Monday may not have surprised too many folks around baseball, and it certainly didn't impress his eight-year-old son, who reportedly told his father, "You're still not an All-Star." Tough crowd. Not only have their been five no-hitters in baseball this year, two clubs -- the Rays and Rockies -- have had their first this season.
3San Diego Padres
Last Week: 3
Wednesday night's 6-1 win over the Dodgers was a microcosm of the Padres' season. They hit only one ball even to the warning track and had only two extra-base hits but won thanks to great pitching (Clayton Richard threw six innings of one-run ball followed by three shutout innings of relief) and well-executed small ball -- the game-tying run in the sixth came when Tony Gwynn Jr. had a pinch-hit infield single, stole second and was driven in on a bloop single. With the win Richard improved to 8-5.
4Texas Rangers
Last Week: 6
The Rangers put a stranglehold on the AL West last weekend by taking three of four from the second-place Angels and will have the chance to completely bury Los Angeles when it travels to Anaheim for three more games this weekend. It's only July but that was an effective statement series against the Angels for a young team to display a killer instinct. Texas has taken a season-high 8 1/2-game lead and has showed the balanced game -- third in the AL in runs scored and third in the AL in team ERA -- to hold on down the stretch.
5Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 4
Every year around awards time, there's a debate as to the significance of the MVP and what the word "valuable" really means, but what Martin Prado has meant to the Braves in this one season is second only to what Gonzalez has meant to the Padres. The Atlanta All-Star is leading the NL in hits (137) and the team in average (.319). He's even tied for second on the club with 13 home runs. He's able to play several positions though he's locked down second base for Atlanta this season and stabilized the leadoff slot: In 64 starts batting first he's hitting .329 with a .364 on-base percentage while the five other Braves who have batted there are hitting .174 with a .263 OBP.
6San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 8
Brian Wilson is the most underappreciated closer in the game. He grew up in a non-traditional baseball area (Londonderry, N.H.), was drafted in the 24th round of the 2003 draft, is as well known for his Mohawk and soul patch as he is his baseball exploits and is overshadowed by that other guy of the same name who used to sing in the '60s. But the Giants get good vibrations almost every time he enters a game. Wilson has a 1.99 ERA, leads the majors with 30 saves and has blown only two chances. Among those with at least 20 saves, he's atop the NL with a 93.8 save percentage.
7St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 5
How charmed has July been at times for the Cardinals? On Wednesday night Albert Pujols made two outs in one inning -- and St. Louis still scored six runs off the Mets' Johan Santana. Earlier in the month they had an eight-game winning streak and should expect continued stellar second-half production from Matt Holliday, who in his career has batted .322 after the All-Star break and increased his power output. He's hit 89 home runs in 403 second-half games (one every 4.5 games) as opposed to 82 home runs in 549 first-half games (one every 6.2 games).
8Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 7
To little acclaim, Gavin Floyd might be the hottest pitcher in baseball. His season numbers (6-8, 3.66 ERA) are modest but he has strung together a Josh Johnson-like series of starts. In Floyd's last 10 outings, dating back to June 8, he has allowed more than one earned run only once, and in that start he yielded only two runs in 6 2/3 innings. In this stretch he has a 1.04 ERA in his last 69 1/3 innings and holding hitters to a .202 average.
9Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 10
The young Reds, by most counts contending a year ahead of schedule, are keeping pace with the Cardinals and could use a shot in arm while veteran third baseman Scott Rolen is absent with injury. The NL wild card race is wide open, so why not call up Aroldis Chapman and energize the team? In his temporary role as reliever, Chapman won't create the same hysteria as other young phenoms like, say, Stephen Strasburg, but Chapman can help the club the way such rookie relievers as Francisco Rodriguez, with the Angels in 2002, and David Price, with the Rays in '08, did.
10Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 11
The Red Sox rebounded to finish a 10-game West Coast road trip at 6-4 thanks to a resounding three-game sweep of the Angels. In each win Boston received a dominant start of at least seven innings. Two of those pitchers, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz, were making only their second start since coming off the disabled list, pitching to another DL refugee, Victor Martinez. The other great start came from John Lackey, who received a largely hostile reception in his return to Anaheim but outdueled Jered Weaver anyway. Lackey, who won Game 7 of the Angels' only World Series championship in 2002, seemed unfazed by the loud boos, telling reporters, "The scoreboard talks the loudest."
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